The visitor center of any national park should always be your first stop. The main desks are staffed by rangers and knowledgable volunteers who provide maps and valuable advice for things to do and see that match your interests and abilities. This is also where you check current weather and road conditions, pick up backcountry permits, sign up for tours, and check out Junior Ranger materials for the kids. They also post listings of daily events such as free evening astronomy, history and geology talks at the outdoor amphitheater. Restrooms and drinking water are available, and this one has a nice book/gift shop and picnic area as well - but no cafeteria. Access is free and does not require a park pass; nice!
The center is generally open from 8:00 until 4:30 with longer hours in summer and closings on a few major holidays; check the website for current schedules before your visit. Additionally, brochures in French and German can be downloaded from this link:
And speaking of the website, it is just FULL of all kinds of information about the park that makes for great reading before you come; check it out!!!
Sulphur Creek winds right past the Visitor's Center and yet it so little known that even after years of visiting the park I had not heard of it. When I did hear about the hike I knew it was one I wanted to take but it took several more years before the opportunity came. It was worth the wait and effort.
I call it Zion Narrows Lite. It is a small canyon formed by the small Sulphur Creek. When we hiked it was barely ankle deep in most places. At the deepest spot the canyon walls are 800 ft above the creek. You can see this point from the Goosenecks overlook off the main road. But the creek has hidden treasures that make it a fun, enjoyable and entertaining hike.
It is a 6 mile one way hike, and I recommend starting at the Chimney Rock parking lot and walking downstream to the Visitor's Center. A ranger hike will take you from the visitors center to the first waterfall, where you can continue on alone, but going up those waterfalls is a little harder. Either way a shuttle car must be used, or if you don't have that then hitchhike.
There are three major waterfalls which must be negotiated along the way. They require some scrambling but are not too difficult and help to keep you cool on a hot summer day. There is a short narrows section and some fun rocky areas. Bring a lunch, eat in the cool of the cottonwood trees and treasure this wonderful waterway in a desert area.
This is a 60 mile loop drive. Here you will see vast expanses of desert and solitary stone monolith towers rising from the sandy plains, as well as secluded valleys and distant mountains. This is a dirt road advertised for high clearance vehicles. To drive the entire loop you should begin at the Harnet Road, which takes you along the western half of Cathedral Valley loop. You will then continue driving along the Caineville Wash Road, which loops back along the eastern side of the valley. The Harnet Road begins 11.7 miles east of the Visitor Center off Utah Hwy 24. The park recommends that you start with this side of the loop to make sure that you can ford the river, as in order to drive the western route into Cathedral Valley, you must drive through and across the Fremont River soon after leaving the highway. The park states that fording this river may require a 4 wheel drive vehicle. We were glad that our truck is a four wheel drive as the river depth came up almost the bottom of our car doors, and there were boulders in the river bottom. We are not into 4 wheel drive activities, and crossing the river scared me.
If you cannot or do not wish to ford the river, you can still drive part way along the loop, then turn around and go back the way you came. To avoid crossing the Fremont River start with the Caineville Wash Road, which is on the eastern side of the Cathedral Valley Loop. This road begins 18.6 miles east of the Visitor Center. By taking this route into Cathedral Valley, you do not have to ford the Fremont River on the western side of the loop.
This drive, including a short spur road to a large gypsum sinkhole, and a few stops along the way for photos and explorations, took us 6 hours.
Conditions on both these roads vary widely based on recent and current weather. Check with the Visitor Center for road information before starting your drive.
The visitor center is near the middle of the park on Hwy 24. This is also where the Scenic Drive goes south 8 miles. It is 8 miles going west from the the east entrance. Close by is the Gifford House, a family that lived here some generations. There is some period furniture on one part of the house. The other part is that gift shop you are looking for to pick up a momento and local items to eat.
These are some of the more dramatic and outstanding views in the park. They almost seem like they would be located in another park because of the different landscapes. Location is near the west edge of the park on Hwy 24. Goosenecks view is off a one mile road behind Panorama Point. The canyon is about 800 feet deep and is the Surrey Creek that carved this canyon.
This hike area is at the end of the paved road, which stops at the gorge wash. When I was here, it rained two days before two inches, so the drive to the trailhead was closed. That caused about another 1 1/2 miles onto the 2 1/2 mile hike. The hike is on level, but some places rocky creekbed. It takes you by some fabulous canyon walls, and what looks like box canyons, but they continue. The reason for the hike is for the dramatic views of the canyon rock walls. One point to remember is that this is a wash, and would flood in even small rain. Another is that because of the sheer walls and narrow ravine, winds whip through here at fast pace; like I guess 40-50 MPH while I was hiking.
This hike is a split off trail from the Grand Wash trail. You go down Grand Wash creek bed for 3/4 mile, and at the pit toilet, take a turn up through the rock canyon. The hike is 3 1/2 miles round trip. There is a monument near the creek to direct where and how.
I did not get that far in since Grand Wash hike at 6 miles was fatiguing me. It is a rather steep climb out of the creek bed to get to the top area, and it takes effort for sure.
This was a moderately difficult hike of 2 miles round trip. The parking is along the road lot, and two miles east of visitor center. There are many steps, and some long reach between them to climb the 500-600 feet crest to the top of the plateau. From there is some sand trail and some more steps along a mountainside, leading to the arch. By the time you get to the top, you should be winded from the steep climb. The Fremont River created the canyon walls, and after many years of water pounding at the rock, some collapsed, and the water came through, leaving this arch. A lot of vegetation still in present due to the water nearby, even though the area only gets average of 7 inches rain a year.
The bridge is names after John Hickman, a frontier explorer and soldier who was around here frequently. The arch is 125 feet high, and 133 feet wide
The Mormons used this valley back in 1880's an on to grow. Some of the orchards remain, and there area about 2000 trees in the park. You are allowed to pick fruit for eating on the spot. If you take a large volume, you are to pay for it where the Ranger is near the orchard, or visitor center. Warning, the apples were good but inside core partial rot. The trees do not get sprayed for protections. They also have pear trees in areas for picking.
The petroglyphs are from The Fremont INdians who lived in this valley along the river for 600 years. Due to droughts in 1300's, they left the area, but left these symbols for you to view. There is a walk path along the rock face to be able to see the etched symbols easier without disturbing them.
The main orchard and the petroglyphs are 1 mile east of the visitor center on Hwy 24
This path goes from the Visitor Center and follows the river for 1 1/2 miles. After the first 3/4 miles, it is an orchard area, and some cliffs for an overlook. There are not many places where you can see the river flowing because of trees and undergrowth along the river edge.
This hike starts just to the south of the visitor center, by the barn and animals. The first part of the 2 mile one way hike is up the steep trail up 400 feet, on the side of this volcanic mountain. From there, it levels out some. I did not get up too far as a result of a long day hiking other areas. To the end of the hike is a canyon overlook of Fruita
This hike ended up being much more than I had planned. It rained 3 days before, and the park service cutoff the artery road that takes you down to the trailhead one mile. So I had to hike further than it states of 4 1/2 miles. I went 6 miles. The hike is on flat terrain in the creek bed, or alongside it.
Grand Wash is dangerous and subject to flash floods. The canyon gets narrow in spots, and the views looking up are overwhelming
This highway was only built back in 1962 to run east/west through the park. It follows the Fremont River flow, so it is winding and slow go behind traffic. The sedimentary rock has different colors and formations, depending on the time period they were effected by the Colorado upheaval, and siltation over time accumulating on the top. There is 10,000 sedimentation that accumulated as rock over 200 million years.
Some of the best part of the park is the mere drive and look up to the sheer walls surrounding you.
The Castle is one of Capitol Reef National Park's most steller rock formations and surprisingly not utilized more in promoting the park. This complex multi-pieced sandstone structure juts up from a small amphitheater that seems built just for it and does quite resemble a castle. Our best experience came quite unexpectedly when, on what was otherwise a dreary dark afternoon, the sun dropped below the cloud cover as it went down late in the day and its golden rays shone on The Castle alone. It was quite spectacular and about all that could have made it better would have been a rainbow rising above it.
The Fruita Schoolhouse is another great well-preserved reminder of the park's Mormon past. This little one-room schoolhouse dates back to 1900 and served only eight families but remember these were big families so its first class was 22 children! The wood burning stove sits prominently in the middle of the room, surely a necessity on cold winter days. It is only open to the public when maned by a ranger and times are listed at the visitor center. It is a pretty sight even if not open, set amongst red rocks but well worth going when open. The rangers provide insight into what life was like at the time.